I have started reading a book titled Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders. I’ve been enjoying it immensely, but found myself falling for two “book learning” traps.
1) Getting excited for a book because it agrees with your worldview
When I read the preface – which was by an author and leader whom I respect very much – I immediately fell in love. This wasn’t like those other management books which contained facile stories and analogies where everything turned up perfectly rosy in the end because people shared their feelings.
This book acknowledged that management and leadership is difficult because humans are complex creatures, and as a group they form an extremely complex system. This matched my experience and my view, so I was immediately going “Yes, yes. Of course! This book is brilliant!”
I hadn’t even started the actual book yet, but I was already excited because it conformed to my beliefs. I had to consciously take a step back and reset my expectations. I wanted to learn from this book, so if it just tells me things I already know or believe, why would I read it?
In this case, rather than setting it aside and finding a book that challenged my worldview, I realized that my worldview was largely anecdotal and experience driven, and this book promised some science and logic behind it. So I’m going in not because it agrees with my worldview, but because I want to understand it better.
If it wasn’t for that, there would be no point reading the book except to nod in agreement with the author and not actually learn anything.
2) Preaching a practice you have not tried to implement yourself
I also found myself ready to start holding the “truths” in the book to be self-evident. Well, self-evident to myself, but not to others. I now had to help spread the word of truthiness to the others. But I had not yet actually put any new practices to the test. How could I recommend or preach something I hadn’t tried myself?
Clearly, the person(s) who wrote the book practiced and implemented it, so learning from that is paramount. Not every experience needs to be personally repeated to be valuable.
But until you’ve experienced the good and bad of any system or technique – and they all have good and bad sides – you should not be holding it as the One True Way™. In fact, once you’ve experienced it for yourself, even if it worked well, you’re unlikely to hold it as the One True Way™ because you have seen the good and bad of it.
You now hold experience and there is no substitute for that. Experience is what allows you to better understand and tailor ideas to your situation. Often, things are more complex than they seem, and blindly following someone else’s experience can be a recipe for failure.
Looking back on this, I’m not sure these are only book learning traps. They’re simply life traps that we experience in our quest to grow. As long as we’re aware of them, we can gain a step as we keep improving ourselves.